I like lying. You might say it’s a hobby of mine, although I don’t have to dress up in a Civil War uniform or buy special equipment like a magnifying glass or butterfly net to do it. I don’t even need sneakers, which is ironic since lying is a bit like sneaking around. Still, it’s my hobby and I am proud of it. I have a granddaughter whom I taught to lie, although, sadly, she is not very good at it, even with red hair. The problem is that she has already been corrupted by her mother (my daughter), other family members, and the Catholic school she attends, which have spread so many lies about lies that it’s not even funny. There’s a joke there somewhere, but I leave that for another post.
Here’s my reason for arguing in praise of lying. It’s a bit heady, but that’s what you get after years of teaching at a university where they practically paid us by the word. I’ll break it down this way, moving very logically from x to y to z. It’ll be a cinch and we’ll all feel better for our newfound appreciation of the lie, fib, crock, fiction, canard, deception, prevarication, tall tale, etc.
First, there is a branch of philosophy called metaphysics, which means beyond the physical world. Meta is a Greek prefix meaning “beyond.” According to metaphysics, reality or being resides outside the physical world. So, if you want to know the essence of a thing, you have to look beyond how much it weighs or its length, color, and other physical properties. This is related to Plato’s teachings and reminds me of a current Spanish expression, mas allá, which also means beyond. So, if you want to find reality or truth (and who doesn’t?), go mas allá, which wouldn’t be a bad name for a Mexican restaurant.
Second, during this week I had no fewer than four instances in which I came face to face with mas allá in about as blatant a way as possible. Three came from my own reading and one from the Golden Era of Italian cinema (!).
The reading involved Ludwig Wittgenstein, who died in 1951 and wrote that the “value” of a thing lies outside the thing itself. It took him volumes to explain this. Then there was an article in semiotics explaining that a symbol, while important, points to a reality beyond itself (think of a wedding ring or love letter). And then a book by Hernando De Soto, a Peruvian economist, who wrote that the value of any form of capital lies outside the actual object (e.g., a house or car), and that what gives capital its power is its potential to be changed into other forms. For instance, you could mortgage your house (one form of capital) to invest in a startup that is working on developing an unhackable cloud platform (a second form of capital), although you’d better not quit your day job.
The Italian cinema? La Corruzione (1963) in black and white with Jacques Perrin in which Perrin plays a naive schoolboy headed for the seminary only to be corrupted by his conniving industrialist father and the father’s 22-year old “assistant.” Throughout the movie there is an ongoing debate concerning where reality lies: here in the “real world” (how often do we hear that argument?), or mas allá? It’s a depressing film, so of course I watched it three times.
That’s four instances in one week in which this metaphysical theme was played out. Coincidence? I think not.
But what has all of this got to do with lying and trying to turn my granddaughter to the dark side? It’s like this. The way you get from the physical world to the reality beyond it, even with commodities, is not through some scientific instrument. A mass spectrometer won’t leverage your mortgage or spin your savings into a high-yield technology investment. There’s only one thing that will do that for you: imagination.
Imagination is what takes you to the essence of a thing, to its core truth. In other words, it’s closer to the truth than facts, at least from a metaphysical perspective. And if you think of imagination as a different way of looking at the world or a language with its own idioms and lexicon, lies are its basic grammatical unit. Yes, lies…You won’t get anywhere without the ability to lie. And with lying, just as in language, practice makes perfect.
I explained all of this in detail to my granddaughter, who paused thoughtfully, nodded, and then told me she agreed wholeheartedly.
Of course, I didn’t believe a word she said.